It’s Back

Just when I thought I could start planning my life again, it came back.

My latest scan shows a small spot on my lower right lung. I am trying to look at the positives instead of drowning myself everyday in the negatives.

Positives;

  • It is located on my “good” lung (only one operation)
  • It is not on my liver
  • It is small and easily accessible
  • Surgery is an option

Negatives;

  • I still have cancer

 

But I guess I’ve always known that. It is the message I have been trying to communicate for months now. To all of the hopefuls who exclaimed, “You beat it!” – this is why I was still sad. With stage four cancer, you never really “beat it”. I knew there was a very high chance it would return, and I was hoping it wouldn’t be this fast. So once again I am putting my future life on hold and go back to living one day at a time. Now, it feels like I am just going through the motions. Living in this purgatory state with no direction, just a “see you in April” from my surgeons. If that scan shows minimal growth and no new friends, then operation number seven will take place this summer. There are a million different scenarios that can come into play, but like I said I am taking it day by day. I can and will drive myself crazy if I constantly think of all of the “what ifs”. I have no control over the scan, what I do have control over is my mind and diet. As long as I stick to a clean diet, and try to keep a healthy mind, I am hopeful that I can prevail.

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Sound The Alarm

I was feeling slighty calm going into the hospital with my mom. Although I could vividly remember my freak out at my colonoscopy 10 years ago, I was a human pin cushion the last few days. The nurse started with the standard questions, but I was quick to inform her about my last experience. That is when she posed the question “May I ask why you are here, and why you had one before so young?”. I told her the two minute version of my story. Like clockwork the minute I said “liver lesions”, she stopped, looked up at me with “the face”, put her hand on my thigh and said “I’m so sorry”. Ummmm sorry for what lady?

Let me also tell you that a needle in the arm is very different then what feels like an 8 foot long needle going into your hand. I passed out.

After the colonoscopy I knew what to expect. The nurse wakes you up, doctor comes by and says “you’re good to go”, and then your ride comes to pick your sore ass (literally) up. Now, I should also mention for those who have never been to day surgery before, it is a big room jammed full of people. Nurses running around and patients everywhere either who just came out, or are sitting around with their saline bag hooked up waiting to go in. I was woken up and amongst the chaos, the room went silent. I heard the nurse across the room on the phone…

“Hi Jorjan…. Jamie is all done and awake…. How far away are you?….. The doctor is going to wait for you to get here.”

I knew.

After revealing the polaroid of four bleeding tumours, the first words out of my mouth were, “I’m going to have a poo bag!?”. The rest of that small conversation is a blur. My dad almost fainted, my mom surprisingly held it together, and I was a blubbering train wreck. The doctor confirmed it was stage 4 colon cancer that had spread to my liver. He let us know he was going to refer me to another surgeon right away. I kept begging him to just take me back to the operating room and cut it out now, but he obviously couldn’t just do that. So we left to go home and wait to hear about an appointment with another surgeon. In my head I gave myself 6 months, just like my grandma.

 

History of Colon Cancer

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I do not remember the specifics around when my nana passed away, but I always knew it was the liver cancer that did it. I was in grade 5, and my nana was like my second mom. I was devastated when she passed, and to this day the thought of it still brings tears to my eyes.

Three days before my colonoscopy, I asked my mom to provide me with more details around how the cancer killed her. She let me know that nana let her colon get so bad (and hid it from her family), that by the end she was sitting on towels at home due to the amount of blood coming out of her bottom. Those signs were clear indicators that things were really bad, so no one was surprised with her diagnosis that it had spread to her liver. She passed away close to 6 months later.

After her diagnosis, approximately two years later my grandfather (still on my mom’s side), was also diagnosed with colon cancer. He was lucky to have caught it much sooner and his had not spread. He was a cancer survivor. I remember knowing as a young kid that grandpa had a “poo bag”, properly known as a colostomy bag. We went out for lunch one time, and half way through he said he had to leave. In the car on the drive home I realized that his bag had popped open and leaked on his sweater. That memory always stuck with me, and I knew I never wanted a “poo bag”.

Around the age of 17 I began to noticed little traces of blood myself. Since i now knew from my family history that this was the biggest sign of colon cancer, I pushed my doctor to allow me to receive a colonoscopy. It is not common at that age to have that procedure, but I am thankful I did. They discovered I had a fissure, and let me know throughout the years it will be common to see a little bit of ribboning. As the years passed I slowly began to notice it more. Being a paranoid person I would google images of bowel moments from colon cancer patients (FYI, it is disgusting so only do this if you really need to lol). Those images looked nothing like mine, so I brushed it off.

I should also note I had a horrible experience during my first colonoscopy. I was so hungry the night before during my prep I was nauseous. The day of the procedure I had a major anxiety attack on the operating table due to my fear of needles. It was bad, I truthfully I was never looking forward to ever having to do it again. This also clearly played a part as to why I didn’t repush another colonoscopy when my gut was telling me too.

The Face

Describing a facial expression is proving to be harder than I originally thought. April 8th, 2014 was what I call “The Day of the Doctors”. First appointment of the day was with my family doctor. I have been going to him since I was in diapers and my parents as well as sister all see him. He knows my medical history as well as my family’s history inside and out. He walked in the room, sat down and said “What is going on with you?”, as he opened up my file and gave me what I call “the face”. He flipped through all of my past papers as he described to me his confusion when he first received my CT results. That was the first real moment I could feel the shift in my life. These “shadows” or what he was now referring to as “liver lesions”, were more serious than I made myself shrug off over the weekend. I kept asking him what he thought they were, and what the worst case scenario would be. He refused to give me anything to work off of, explaining my surgeon will have a better idea.

Second visit was to a blood clinic. Although my family doctor was sure that my surgeon would request a blood test, he ordered me one anyways just in case. I had time between the two appointments so I thought what the heck.

Meeting with the general surgeon was a little daunting. I was going with the thought that he would be speaking to us (I forgot to mention my mother decided to take the afternoon off to come to this appointment.) about getting me a liver biopsy. We are called in, sit down, and he asks, “What are you here for?”. Um, shouldn’t you know already? I pipe up and say I had a CT of my abdominal area and he has the results. He looks down at them, and then gives me “the face”.

After explaining that if they are hemangiomas he will not be able to biopsy them, he begins to explain the next steps. “Liver cancer is rarely primary, so if this is cancer it must have come from somewhere else. We need to rule out all other areas it could be before I will be able to biopsy. Therefore, you will have a mammogram, colonoscopy, chest CT and MRI in order to make sure. Oh, and you need a different type of blood test. There is a clinic down the hall.”

After yet another drawing of my blood, the doctor’s admin books my first exam. Colonoscopy. I need a work up by my family doctor before my Monday procedure, so back to the office I went.

It is now closer to 5pm and I find myself back in the same chair I was in this morning. My doctor sounds shocked that he is sending me for a colonoscopy, since I had one when I was 17 and all they found was a fissure (tear or split in the lining of the anus). He then reassured me that this surgeon was an amazing doctor and he knows what he is doing. He let me know as well that my first blood results should be back on Friday, so he would call me then.

I explained later that evening to my mother and a friend about “the face”. They both thought I was crazy, but they didn’t see the eyes. It is like they all knew I had a death sentence, but no one was allowed to say it until they had proof. Well, even without words, I could feel it in their eyes.

 

Boom

April 3rd 2014 – CT scan

I have never bonded with a stranger before like I did the day of my CT scan. Chugging back 2 large cups of contrast at 7am will do that. He was old, most likely 80+, and came with his wife. After we both had our scans I wished him the best and we parted ways. I wonder if his news was better or worse than mine?

Like deja vu the phone rang yet again no more than 2 hours after my scan. This time however, I was in my new apartment in Toronto. With no sense of urgency, I let the receptionist know I was not able to drive all the way back to the doctor’s office.

“Jamie, sorry do to this to you over the phone…..seeing multiple shadows on your liver….. when was your last Pap smear……”

“I’m sorry doctor, but what are you trying to tell me?”

“We see a shadow near your cervical area. We think you have cervical cancer that has spread to your liver. I’m setting you up an appointment with a surgeon and you should probably call your family doctor.”

“Sounds great.”

Think about a time when you had devastating news. Your dog died, your significant other is leaving you, anything at all that crushed you to your core. Now, multiply that feeling by 100 and welcome to my first breath after hanging up the phone. I honestly cannot remember the first person I called. I remember I wanted it to be my mom, but it was 2 in the afternoon and I didn’t want to bother her at work. I only made a few phone calls to friends. Some I started calling then hung up because I realized, what was I really going to say? Tell the world the doctors think I may have cancer? Put everyone through a mind fuck of pain and questions? But then what? When they tell me in the end they were wrong, and the shadows are not cancer they are something else. I would have to explain that to everyone? Forget it. Stick to only a handful of friends.

 

Magic

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iPads look even cuter when they have a little keyboard attached to them. (Is that really going to be my first sentence?)

I find it a tad ironic I am sitting here having a hard time finding a way to start this blog because I am having the worst acid reflex attack. My acid reflex attacks are what started this crazy life I lead today. Returning from beautiful Punta Cana in January of this year, I began having 4 straight days of uncontrollable acid reflex. Being the paranoid person that I am, I immediately thought I must have a parasite. After a visit to the walk-in, he gave me an abdominal exam where he felt underneath my right rib cage. It was tender. “Must be gallstones”, he said as he ordered me an abdominal ultrasound. By end of week I was in for that ultrasound. Laying on the table the tech began her examination. The first words out of her mouth were, “When was the last time you had a blood test?”. “Um, no idea”, and she carried on. Two hours later at home I received a phone call from the walk-in letting me know my ultrasound results were in and the doctor would like to speak to me. Obviously, I was nervous. I have never once received results back in such a timely manner. Heading into the office, all I could think of was that I must be pregnant. That would be the only logical reason why she asked me about a blood test….. which I actually have no idea if that even makes sense, but it did to me.

Hemangioma – a birthmark that most commonly appears as a rubbery, bright red nodule of extra blood vessels in the skin (www.mayoclinic.org)

“That is what I believe you have. Nothing to worry about, but I would like to send you for a CT scan just to be sure.”

 

I should probably write the entire first part of my story in one piece. I mean, it would make sense to explain everything that happened leading up to my diagnosis in one blog post, but I am not a writer and this is my blog so I make the rules. I have told my story to my friends over and over so many times I truthfully thought this would be a walk in the park. Surprise, I am wrong. I just found my self staring at “April 3rd, 2014 – CT Scan” for the past 15 minutes. Reliving the day in my head with a vivid memory of everything I felt. No thanks, it’s Friday morning and I need to eat something more than banana bread.